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Attack weeds early... and replace with elegant backdrops

Weeds! If you already see them poking their nasty little heads above the surface of your flowerbeds, now is the time for action, if you’d prefer NOT to break your back (and do a lot of cursing) throughout the spring and summer!

Today, I’ll have some tips to ease the landscaper’s least-favorite chore... and a suggestion about adding a whole new texture that will also help to control weeds.

If you think of your landscape as a battleground with the weeds as the enemy, here’s the most important strategy you can employ: Attack early!

At the start of the season, weeds are at their most vulnerable. Attack now and you can prevent annual weeds from forming seed heads and you can stop those perennial weeds from developing strong, deep roots.

Still not convinced? Consider this. One crab grass plant can produce up to 100,000 seeds, each with the potential to become another crab grass plant.

When it comes to weeding, you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment. You’ll want to have a pair of gardening gloves to protect your hands from thistles and sharp stones. An old table fork (not grandma’s prized silver) is really useful, and it’s always good to have a trowel handy. You might want to invest a few dollars in a small hand tool called a fishtail weeder, also known as a dandelion weeder. The only large tool you’ll usually need for weeding is a hoe, preferably a scuffle hoe.

Annual weeds Annuals, such as crabgrass, pigweed and foxtail, complete their life cycle within one year, as you’ve probably deduced. With annuals, your best bet is simply to cut off their heads, just below soil level, before they have a chance to grow.

For an un-mulched area of soil, such as a flower bed, I find the easiest way to do this is with a scuffle hoe. Pull and push the hoe across the DRY soil, so the head of the hoe is raking about a half inch to an inch below the surface. A useful tip: sharpen the tip with a file at the start of each season and your hoe will move through the soil more easily and decapitate more weeds.

Perennial weeds Perennials, such as dandelions, quack grass and thistles, need a more individual approach. Remove the weeds by hand as early in the season as possible to prevent them establishing too deep a root base.

You’ll find it easier to uproot perennial weeds when the soil is wet, following a rain shower or a good soaking from your garden hose. If you find the roots are breaking off and remaining in the soil when you pull them by hand, use a trowel or a dandelion weeder. For really deep-rooted weeds, you might have to dig them out.

As you know, I’m something of a crusader for healthy, robust soil as it promotes better growth of the plants you do want and fewer of those you don’t want: weeds. You can find more information at my Web site and I’m happy to send you information via e-mail if you write to me at [email protected]

So... you’ve rooted out the weeds from your flower beds and you want to add something that will enhance the beauty of your flowers. Here’s an idea you might not have thought of: ornamental grasses.

Clumps of ornamental grasses are ideal for mixing in with spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils. Taller grasses form an eye-pleasing “curtain” behind perennials in a flower bed that backs up to an ugly fence or the side of a garage.

Lower-growing grasses can be integrated with your perennials. As an example, Elijah blue fescue looks spectacular in the spring surrounding dianthus (also known as pinks) because their colors just seem to “zing” together.

Next time in this column, I’ll give you specific descriptions of some of my favorite ornamental grasses and how you can use them to enhance the look of your existing landscape, or to establish a new landscape in a short period of time. If you can’t wait and you want some personal advice about choosing ornamental grasses (or anything else for that matter) send me an e-mail with a few details and I’ll give you some ideas.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org